Who Should Cardinals Fans Root For?

Sorting out what would be best for the St. Louis Cardinals and worst for their NL Central Division rivals this coming weekend.

Riding their first two-game win streak since September 7-9, with a day off between, the St. Louis Cardinals have assured themselves of a winning season, their eighth in the last nine seasons and 10th in Tony La Russa's 13 years as manager.

 

With a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the final game of their home series on Thursday afternoon and a sweep over the visiting Cincinnati Reds Friday through Sunday, the Cardinals can finish 86-76, ten games over .500.

 

Their high-water mark this season was 14 games over, last achieved on August 27. The last time the Cardinals were ten games over .500 was on September 11, as they lost the second of three home games to the Chicago Cubs. Immediately after, the Cards embarked on a disastrous 2-7 road trip that put the final nails in their 2008 post-season coffin.

 

In their unusual position of being out of playoff contention for the second consecutive season, the question on the table is what teams should Cardinals fans root for this weekend, other than their own, of course?

 

Chicago?

 

Having already clinched both the Central Division and the best record in the National League, the Cubs are what they will be at the end of the regular season. They will enter the playoffs with the home field advantage.

 

Given that, should the Cubs simply be ignored until the playoffs begin?

 

Not necessarily. If Cardinals fans want the Cubs to be the most tired they can be entering the post-season, they should root for the Houston Astros and against the New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.

 

That means they should actually want the Cubs to win this weekend, as incredible as that seems.

 

How's that, you ask?

 

Houston?

 

With their victory Wednesday night, the Astros are now 3.5 games behind the Brewers and the Mets in the NL Wild Card race. Any combination of Mets/Brewers wins or Astros losses totaling two would eliminate Houston from playoff contention.

 

Yet, if Houston can somehow pull at least within a half game of the Wild Card lead to end the weekend, their unplayed third game in the Hurricane Ike series against the Chicago Cubs will be required to be played at Minute Maid Park on Monday, September 29.

 

As Houston fans are painfully aware, the first two games of the series were played at Milwaukee's Miller Park on September 14-15. The "home" Astros were swept, including suffering through Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter in Game One.

 

Houston has their final four games at home, the series finale against Cincinnati on Thursday, followed by three against the Braves this weekend.

 

Milwaukee?

 

The Brewers need to keep winning to keep their Wild Card co-lead intact. After finishing their current home series against Pittsburgh on Thursday night, they travel to Chicago for the closing weekend.

 

As noted above, the Cubs have no reason to care about the outcome of these games, other than to get ready for the post-season. Or do they?

 

I am sure even without asking that the Cubs to a man don't care if they have to entertain the Wild Card Mets or the (division leader with the worst record) Dodgers to open the first round.

 

On the other hand, they surely don't want to have to pick up their gear to travel to Houston for a meaningless (to them) Ike game on Monday, only to head back home to host the Divisional Series opener starting on Wednesday, October 1.

 

How do they avoid that? One way is to make sure the Brewers keep winning, at least two games, anyway. That would eliminate the Astros, making their tentative Monday trip to Houston unnecessary.

 

I am not suggesting the Cubs should or will try to lose, but it does present an interesting dilemma, doesn't it?

 

My priority

 

Even more than the 86 wins that remain possible for the Cardinals and more than caring what happens to Chicago and Milwaukee, I would like to see St. Louis make up their 1.5 game deficit in the standings against the Astros in the final four days and escape the lower half of the NL Central, baseball's largest division with six teams.

 

That has been made more difficult unless the Ike game is played.

 

Current course and speed, to finish ahead of the Astros, the Cards will need to win at least two more than Houston in each of their final four scheduled games. The clubs cannot tie without the Ike game to even their games played.

 

For example, if the Cards only go 2-2, the Astros would have to go 0-4. In that case, the Cardinals would finish 84-78 and Houston would end at 83-78, one-half game back.

 

Yet, if the Ike game is needed and the Astros would lose it, the Cardinals and Astros could tie if the Cardinals win only one more game than Houston the rest of the way. That hill is very steep as the Cardinals would need to run the table, going 4-0, and if the Astros went 3-2 (including an Ike game loss), the two would end with identical 86-76 marks.

 

For this to happen, the Mets and Brewers would need to keep losing so the Astros could stay in the hunt long enough for the Monday game to be required – a very low odds scenario indeed.

A conclusion (as opposed to THE conclusion)

 

Of course, Cardinals fans will always root for their team to win. As strange as it may sound, some may also pull for the Cubs to win this weekend, knowing it could make their playoff run more difficult.

 

If your DNA simply won't allow that, I understand completely. In that case, try rooting for the Brewers to lose instead. That shouldn't be nearly as difficult. After all, does anyone really ever want to see Prince Fielder's ample midriff exposed again?

 

If you are ok with the Cards tying the Astros and want the Cubs' road to be as rocky as possible, pull for the ‘Stros to stay in it long enough to require the Ike game – and then lose. The Cards also need to go 4-0 the rest of the way.

 

In that scenario, the Astros and Brewers likely miss the post-season (pending any required tie-breaker games), the Cubs had to travel back and forth to Houston on Monday and the Cards and Astros tie.

 

Alternatively, if the Astros bow out earlier, the Cardinals could finish in third place ahead of Houston.

 

That's about the best a Cardinals fan can hope for over the next five days.

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

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